To me, all homegrown vegetables taste better than store bought. A few, however, taste so much better homegrown that I almost never bother buying them from the store. Tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cucumbers all fall into that category. I never thought that potatoes would be included until I finally grew them at home for the first time five years ago. A spud was a spud, I assumed, and they were so inexpensive in the grocery store anyways. The whole process of growing and “hilling” potatoes also intimidated me.
Indeed, I was wrong. I grew Red Pontiacs that first year and have ever since. Garden-fresh potatoes are so creamy and smooth, they truly taste as if they’ve already been buttered-up for you. My favorite recipe for them includes fresh garden sage leaves, and is so simple, easy and delicious, it has become one of my favorite dishes (I’ll include the recipe below). I love this recipe so much; I tried making it after I ran out of potatoes one year and substituted them with store-bought. Well I learned my lesson. The homegrown potatoes were what made the dish so delicious. Those grocery spuds tasted like wax in comparison. How disappointing. Potatoes are also pretty easy to grow. Here in Tallahassee they are traditionally planted around Valentine’s Day, and harvested by May. My friends Katie and Aaron, who run Full Earth Farm in Quincy, have a traditional Valentines Potato-date every February. There are many ways to plant potatoes, but I’ve been most successful with the following technique;
Make a trench 10 inches wide and 4 inches deep on level ground. Place a 2 inch layer of compost in the bottom. Cut Seed potatoes in halves or quarters, making sure there is at least one sprouting ‘eye’ in each piece. Allow cut potatoes to air-dry and callus over for a few days. Press each, cut side down, into the compost in the center of the trench to form a hill about 7 inches above the ground. I like to then cover them with mulch to prevent weeds.
By the end of April, the green tops will start yellowing and dying back and that means those little taters are sizing up underground. I use a garden fork to lift up the tubers with the least amount of damage. This is my favorite part of the growing process, because it feels like you’re digging up buried treasure. It’s a great activity for kids (of all ages). So set a potato-date and save this recipe for your harvest!
Roasted Sage Taters
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Scrub and dry the potatoes. 3.Pour the oil into a heavy oven-proof skillet, preferably of cast iron, and spread evenly. Lay a thick bed of sage leaves flat on the oiled surface, completely covering the bottom of the pan.
4. Sprinkle the salt over the sage. It may look like too much salt, but it’s not.
5. Cut small potatoes in half or large ones in quarters and arrange, cut side down, on the sage.
6. Bake, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender and the cut sides are crusty brown, usually about 35 min.
2 lb. Red Pontiac potatoes
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
20-30 fresh sage leaves
1 tsp. coarse sea salt 4 servings